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California father, son accused of reckless arson in massive Caldor Fire

The fire burned more than 200,000 acres and caused the evacuation of the city of South Lake Tahoe.

A California man and his son are accused of reckless arson in the massive Caldor Fire, which scorched more than 200,000 acres, destroyed structures and forced the evacuation of South Lake Tahoe, prosecutors said Wednesday.

The men, David Scott Smith, 66, and his son Travis Shane Smith, 32, were arrested and are accused of violating a penal code section commonly known as reckless arson, the El Dorado County District Attorney's Office said.

The district attorney’s office did not explain how the pair are accused of starting the fire and did not immediately reply to a request for more details Wednesday evening.

The Smiths were arrested on a “Ramey warrant,” which is when someone is taken into custody before charges are filed, the DA’s office said in a statement.

Their attorney, Mark Reichel, said he does not know prosecutors’ theory about the case, but he said the Smiths are innocent.

“They’re charged that it’s accidental but reckless — the DA is not saying it was intentional,” Reichel said. “We are saying we are 100 percent innocent. We’re saying they did not start it.”

Reichel said that the Smiths were out enjoying Eldorado National Forest the day the fire began and that they called 911 to report it.

He said that it was not a surprise that the pair were under investigation and that search warrants were conducted at their homes in August.

David and Travis Smith were arrested Wednesday afternoon and were being held on $1 million bail in the El Dorado County jail, Reichel said.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, which is the lead agency investigating the fire, referred questions about the fire’s cause to the district attorney’s office.

The Caldor Fire broke out Aug. 14 south of the community of Grizzly Flats.

Fueled by drought, hot weather and high winds, the fire quickly grew in size, burning east through the Sierra Nevada mountains and Eldorado National Forest toward the Nevada border.

In late August, mandatory evacuations were ordered for the entire city of South Lake Tahoe, population around 21,000.

Firefighters were able to keep the blaze out of the town, but more than 1,000 structures, including homes, were destroyed.

The Caldor Fire was fully contained by Oct. 21, more than two months after it began.

It is the 16th most destructive wildfire in modern California history and the 15th largest, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.